The recruits from the high school recruiting class of 2012 are finally on campus and going through the grind of their first fall training camps.
Not all of them are going to live up to their lofty recruiting rankings this season. Some will take time to adjust to the rigors of college life and go on to redshirt. Some will find ways to contribute as backups or on special teams. Others will be pressed into action due to injuries. Only a select few will become stars this fall.
Over at Heismanpundit.com we are always on the lookout for future Heisman candidates, so it's a tradition of ours to try to pick out the players from each recruiting class who best fit that bill. It's an inexact science, but in 2007, we had a guy named Cameron Newton on our list. Here are our picks from 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Selecting this group is not as simple as checking off some 5-star players from the recruiting sites.
First off, we narrow the list down to quarterbacks, running backs and multi-purpose athletes. No matter what anyone says, you can forget about tight ends, linebackers or linemen winning the trophy.
Second, we assess the abilities of the players in question. Do their skills translate to the next level? How quickly will they make an impact? Do they have the physical measurables and the intangibles needed to succeed?
Third, how well does the player fit into the system in which he will be playing? Does his team's system produce the numbers needed to win a Heisman?
Let's see what's in store for this year's class, along with a few of their highlights. Keep these guys on your radar and expect at least one of them to make a strong run at the Heisman within the next four years. Here they are:
(in alphabetical order)
Bri'onte Dunn, RB,
Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas -- The nation's No. 1-rated prep running back has everything you want: Size, speed, vision, hands, power, and durability. He's a dynamic downtown threat who can also break tackles. He'll contribute from the getgo for the Longhorns and contend for the Heisman before too long.
Duke Johnson, RB, Miami -- One of the premier playmakers in this class, Johnson can take it the distance at any time and from any distance. He's already been featured as one of our freshmen who can make an impact on this year's race. He can run, catch and return kicks and I expect him to develop into the most exciting player at Miami since Devin Hester. An incredible all-around talent.
Gunner Kiel, QB, Notre Dame -- Kiel has one of the strongest arms in this recruiting class, but he also has the athleticism to move around some in Brian Kelly's spread system. A Notre Dame quarterback is always one good season away from being a legit candidate and I expect Kiel to have a great career for the Irish. For now, it looks like he'll redshirt.
Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma -- The Sooners seem to be favoring mobile quarterbacks of late with the signing of Blake Bell a couple years ago and now with Knight in 2012. While he's got great feet and natural running ability, Knight is also a strong-armed and accurate passer. He'll redshirt this season and then compete for the starting job in 2013.
Cyler Miles, QB, Washington -- Miles has the potential to elevate Washington to the next level within a few seasons. He's got similar size and physical ability to Cam Newton and Husky coach Steve Sarkisian raved about his athletic ability at Pac-12 media day. According to some reports, he is already challenging to be the backup to Keith Price this fall.
Mario Pender, RB, Florida State -- The Seminoles don't have a storied running back tradition, but Pender might be the best of the bunch before it's all said and done. He has great size to go with breakaway speed and even though he'll miss this season due to a groin injury, he should bounce back and become a great player for the 'Noles.
Barry Sanders, Jr., RB, Stanford -- He doesn't just have the name, he's got the ability as well. And with Stanford being a recent destination for Heisman candidates, I like his chances of making a splash in the next few years, especially with the stud line recruits that've been brought to Palo Alto to block for him. He's been impressive in fall camp so far for the Cardinal, but with all the experience ahead of him on the depth chart, look for a redshirt.
Russel Shell, RB, Pittsburgh -- Shell might be the most talented running back recruit to sign with the Panthers since Tony Dorsett. He's a complete back who could've played anywhere he wanted, but he chose to stick with Pitt. He should contribute for the Panthers sooner rather than later.
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama -- After a year of adjustment, look for Yeldon to pick up where Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson left off. He was an early entry and was one of the stars of the Crimson Tide spring game, so we expect some highlight reel plays as a freshman. He's a tall, athletic back who can also catch the ball. He'll make Alabama fans very happy in the years to come.